On Second Thought(18)

By: Kristan Higgins

The bride was grim in her victory. Huge fluffy dress, six bridesmaids, four flower girls, high Anglican mass at St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue. Her tiny, elderly parents walked her down the aisle to Wagner’s Bridal Chorus. The sense of I’ve earned this, goddamn it was as thick as fog in London.

As was often the case, I could see through the camera what wasn’t visible to my naked eye; the groom was itchy, his goofy antics masking his resentment. I guessed she’d given him an ultimatum about marriage; I imagined they’d fought bitterly about it until he caved.

The bride’s smile was tight at the corners, her eyes flat, her forehead Botoxed. Even the kiss at the altar had been quick and hard. Some of the guests rolled their eyes, and rather than the lightness that so often radiates from weddings, regardless of the age of the bride and groom, this one was dull and heavy.

Every wedding tradition was honored—the engraved program announcing the readings, the lifting of the veil, Handel’s Trumpet Voluntary blaring at the end. At the reception, which was held at the Peninsula Hotel, the bride and groom were introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield, the three hundred guests dutifully applauding, the bride snarling at her sister for not securing the train properly. There was the first dance, the father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the bouquet.

As I held up the camera to photograph the bride getting ready to chuck her flowers, I could see through the viewer that, yep, she was rubbing it in, calling some of her reluctant friends by name to get on out there. I am no longer one of you, hags! And the world shall know that you are still single!

Those older (my age) friends muttered resentfully as they stood on the dance floor, third martinis in hand, not even pretending to try when the bouquet was tossed. The bride’s college-age niece caught it, still young enough to think it was fun.

Then the call went out for the single guys to catch the garter—another baffling tradition: Would you like to have my wife’s pointless underwear accessory as a memento? Maybe keep it under your pillow and sniff it from time to time? The men were the usual suspects—the teenage boys, the already drunken groomsmen, an elderly uncle, the guys whose dates were pretending not to watch but were shrewdly assessing how hard the men would try to make the catch.

Someone caught it; I didn’t see who, as he was in the middle of the pack. But then came the obligatory dance for him and the bouquet-catcher, so I dutifully took a few pictures, congratulating them both on their dexterity. The niece was quite beautiful, the guy good-looking without being too handsome, his reddish hair and blue eyes giving him the boy-next-door appeal. My money was on him taking the niece home.

Imagine my shock, then, when the garter-catcher left the niece at the end of the song and came right over to me. Asked about my camera. Listened as I described it, then admitted he took pictures only with his phone. Further admitted he was talking about cameras only to see if I was single and might want to have a drink with him.

“If that’s code for ‘I have a room here, want to hook up?’” I said, “then sadly, the answer is no.”

“There’s a code?” he asked, grinning.

“There is.”

“Well, what’s code for ‘Will you have a drink with me after the wedding? Or sometime this week?’”

It’s Hi, I’m an alien, I thought.

Because good-looking, age-appropriate men didn’t date thirty-nine-year-olds. (Daniel the Hot Firefighter, anyone?) Even if, unlike Daniel, a guy my age wanted to settle down, they focused their sights on women in their twenties or early thirties, still secure in their fertility. Not women who’d been single for the entire two decades of their adult lives.

Up until this moment, I had never been approached by a stranger and asked out. Not once. It just wasn’t how it happened anymore.

I gave him my business card and smiled, hopefully hiding my befuddlement, then went off to photograph the hissing bride and pissy groom twining arms to sip champagne. I would’ve bet my left ovary that I would never hear from the garter-catcher again.

He called me the next day and asked me out for a drink on the Lower East Side. Not knowing how to handle such a bizarre turn of events, I accepted.